2005.11.23 Punchball in the Bronx

By DAVID GREEN

THE NOV. 14 “New Yorker” magazine has a story by John Lahr called “The Thin Man.” This particular thin man is John Buscemi, a rather odd-looking actor whom I remember most clearly from “Fargo” (the guy who went through the wood chipper) and “The Big Lebowski” (the skinny little bowler) and “Trees Lounge,” a movie that Buscemi wrote and directed.

He’s memorable, that’s for sure. His dentist wanted to fix his teeth, but Buscemi  knew he’d lose work if he looked good.

Oh, I forgot “Ghost World” where he played a reclusive record collector. There are probably others I’m forgetting, since I learned in the story that he’s been in more than 80 movies.

The story was chock-full of interesting tidbits, such as Buscemi’s story that he once kissed a girl in high school and she threw up on his shoes.

The author drove around Brooklyn, NY, while Buscemi pointed out some highlights from his youth.

“This is one of the more neglected neighborhoods,” he said as we rolled up Liberty Avenue where he used to play punchball and which was now littered with glass and garbage. As we got out of the car, a posse of Latina girls in toreador pants passed by.

That stopped me short. Not the toreador pants but the punchball. I had to ask my New York City contact—my wife from the Bronx—what punchball was all about.

“You take a Spaldeen...” Hold it there. She’s talking about a little pink ball made by the Spaulding company. It’s probably a handball, but in N.Y.C. it’s known simply as a Spaldeen.

So, you take a Spaldeen, you throw it up in the air and you punch it with your hand if you’re the batter and you run the bases like a game of baseball. Sometimes there’s a pitcher, but in her neighborhood the ball was usually tossed up by the batter.

Back to the story. Lahr and Buscemi drove on past St. Michael’s Church, now surrounded by barbed wire.

“The church was locked; part of the playground where Buscemi had flipped cards was now a parking lot.”

I had to consult my wife again. Flipping cards?

Colleen was a little hazy on this one. Something about flipping baseball cards. She said to call her sister, Linda, who lives in Brooklyn. Linda was less hazy, but her friend, Liz, was the one who was clear. Liz grew up in Brooklyn and here’s what they did.

Each player brings a stack of baseball cards to the game. Player A would flip over five cards, one at a time, and see how they land—either face up or face down. Player B had to match the number of face-up, face-down cards. If it was a match, Player B won all the cards. You kept flipping until the cards were gone and the winner had them all.

There’s something in the flip that I can’t put into  words. I’ve seen my wife do it, but I can’t really describe it.

WHEN I hear stories of punchball, card flipping and others (Skullsey, Hot Peas & Butter, Johnny on the Pony) I feel that I had a game-deprived youth. I played War and Hide-and-Seek and Freeze Tag, along with army games and home-made games such as Make Me Laugh.

Hide-and-Seek took on an extra element of excitement due to Susan Webster’s dog that would chase us from the front porch to the back porch. I was really afraid of that little mutt.

None of my games stand up to those of the New York City kids. They knew how to have a good time. And for my wife, it was an important part of her social development.

She’s mentioned several times how she had a socially-deprived childhood. I recall her saying that she never had a date in high school, but when I ask her now, she claims that she went to see “Billy Jack” with some guy and then went back to his bedroom to converse and stuff. It sounds like that was about the extent of her dating days.

But punchball was a glorious time. In fifth grade, she was the only girl the boys allowed to play, but that was only at recess.

I wasn’t all that impressed. “So what did that do for you?” I asked.

“It got me to first base.”

   - Nov. 23, 2005

 

  • Front.web
    NICE WORK—A spider remains at the center of a web, awaiting visitors, during a moist morning last month. The was built in front of Eagle Funeral Home in Morenci.
  • Front.bridge Cross
    STEP BY STEP—Wyatt Stevens of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge Sunday during the Michigan DNR’s Great Outdoors Jamboree at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The Tecumseh Boy Scout Troop constructed the bridge again this year after taking a break in 2016. The Jamboree offered a variety of activities for a wide range of age groups. Morenci’s Stair District Library set up activities again this year and had visits with dozens of kids. See the back page for additional photos.
  • Front.bridge.17
    LEADING THE WAY—The Morenci Area High School marching band led the way across the pedestrian bridge on Morenci’s south side for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. The Band Boosters shared profits from the sale of T-shirts with the walk’s sponsor, the Morenci Area Chamber of Commerce. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.eclipse
    LOOKING UP—More than 200 people showed up at Stair District Library Monday afternoon to view the big celestial event with free glasses provided by a grant from the Space Science Institute. The library offered craft activities from noon to 1 p.m., refreshments including Cosmic Cake from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and a live viewing of the eclipse from NASA on a large screen. As the sky darkened slightly, more and more people moved outside to the sidewalk to take a look at the shrinking sun. If you missed it, hang on for the next total eclipse in 2024 as the path comes even closer to this area.
  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.